Long Term Travel Tips: Keep it Simple
Move Slowly, Plan Less
There seems to be this mentality among travelers that life is a zero sum game. That a trip, experience, or destination is just another item to be checked off a bucket list. That each trip you take will be your last and that you should do your best to maximize the value of each moment of every trip.
The result is that travelers try to pack as many destinations and events into their trips as possible. They plan everything down to the minute. They allocate time for travel, eating, sleeping, shitting, and “fun.”
This is not a great way to plan a memorable, enjoyable trip.
Over planning is a waste of time and energy
I understand this inclination. Travel is expensive. It’s an interruption to your normal life. These are places and experiences that you might not have the opportunity to enjoy ever again. While these things may feel true, they rarely are. If you like a place, you can always go back. Sure, going back may be hard and it may require making sacrifices, but you can do it.
Don’t get me wrong, planning for your trip is fun. Daydreaming about what you might do can be as enjoyable as actually doing it. Sometimes it’s more fun. When we daydream, we get to leave all of the shitty parts out of the experience.
But planning takes a lot of time and effort. If you try to fit too much into a trip, you are more likely to make the trip less enjoyable than it would be if you just relaxed a little bit.
Traveling fast is exhausting
Over planning turns your fun trip into an incredibly stressful experience. Think about what it’s like to be busy in your daily life. It sucks. You don’t have the time to slow down and enjoy your experiences. You don’t have time to make meaningful connections with people. You’re just going through the motions of life without really living it.
Sure, you may be thinking, but this is different. This is the trip of a lifetime. You have to try to do it all. You can handle for a few weeks or months.
No, you can’t. If you try to do too much you will not enjoy your trip.
Over planning makes travel more stressful
Over planning creates too much stress. Think about that to-do list you have at work, for your house, or your personal life. Or your email inbox. How does it make you feel knowing that there is no way you can ever complete it.
You dread looking at it. You are paralyzed into inaction. Starting one task feels pointless when you know you can’t do it all.
Over planning for your trip is no different. You will create unrealistic expectations for yourself and your trip that can never be met. Instead of enjoying the experiences you do have, you will be left thinking about all of the items on your checklist that you didn’t have time to check off. Instead of being about the joy you felt, your lasting memory will be about your failure.
As with poor communication, over planning has the potential to completely ruin your trip. None of us are at our best when we overwhelmed by negative stress. We behave poorly. We treat others poorly. We sulk instead of enjoying otherwise enjoyable moments and interactions. We are unable to notice the little parts of the day that make life worth living.
When we try to pack too much into our trips, we are setting the stage for the kinds of interactions and experiences that, well, really suck.
Fast travel is expensive travel
Another pitfall of moving quickly and over planning? The cost. Go back to your last trip and tally all of your costs. I can almost guarantee that the two biggest costs are your travel expenses and accommodations.
Sure, you may have saved $500 by making that stopover in Reykjavik. I’m still willing to bet that was one of the most expensive days of your trip. Here’s the reality: traveling between locations is more expensive than staying in one place.
Traveling quickly makes experiencing a place far, far more expensive once you get there. How much do you pay in rent per night? Now hop over to Hipmunk and figure out how much a night in a hotel costs in your city.
If I’m being conservative, I can get a hotel room with 1 queen size bed for $100 a night in Richmond. That’s about $3000 per month. The cost of living is pretty low here. I can get a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom luxury apartment in one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city for less than $1500/mo. I can get a fully furnished apartment for only slightly more. That’s about half the cost of what amounts to a studio apartment without a kitchen. Not only do you save on lodging, you can cook a meal every now and then and save money on food.
Sure, getting an apartment can be a pain in the ass. The moral of the story remains the same. The longer you stay in a place, the cheaper it is to stay there. Even staying 2 weeks in a place can be cheaper per night than staying just a night or two.
Look around. Do a quick Google search. With a little effort you can find ways to negotiate down the price of hotel rooms, AirBnBs, and even serviced apartments if you’re going to stick around a city for a few weeks.
Nothing puts stress on an experience quite like money. When we are under tight budgets, we can think of little else. We carefully calculate the cost of each hotel stay, meal, and museum admission. The stress caused by money creates conflict and ruins relationships and experiences.
These trips are supposed to be the moments that we remember for the rest of our lives. Do you really want to risk ruining a remarkable moment because you’re worried about spending too much money?
Traveling quickly is more expensive that traveling slowly. You will be able to get more for your money if you slow down. You’ll actually have the time… and money… to enjoy yourself.
Slow travel maximizes the value of travel experiences
This last one is a matter of personal preference, but it’s still worth considering.
It might be attractive to treat travel as an opportunity to cross off items on your bucket list. After all, can’t you just imagine listing off all of the things you did to your jealous friends back home? Eiffel tower? Check. Roman Colosseum? Check. Tate Museum? Another check.
Checking items off of a list is not what life’s really about. At least, not for me. Life is about the feelings, interactions, and moments that we experience during and, critically, in between, the items on our checklists.
Most of the greatest memories we collect from our trips are the things that simply can’t be planned. Meeting that great couple on a museum tour. Stumbling into a bar filled with talented local musicians playing together. That meal made and served by a local grandmother at the whole in the wall restaurant. These experiences happen through serendipity and happenstance. They won’t be on your bucket list, but will be among your greatest hits.
Traveling slowly leads to the biggest value that travel can provide: experiencing cultures outside of our own. Experiencing cultures outside of our own pushes us to be more open minded. It enhances our creativity. It increases our confidence in our own abilities. It makes us less fearful and prejudiced. If gives us a greater understanding of people who are not like us. It helps us feel compassion and empathy for others.
This kind of transformational experience takes time. Simply put, it is not possible to really experience, learn from, and get real value from experiencing another culture if we travel fast. We have to slow down.
You can’t really know a place if you only experience it for a few days.
A slow approach to travel
Instead of planning everything you could do, pick a few things and places that are really, really important. If I’m planning a trip for fun, I never plan to do more than 2 things each day. 1 in the morning. 1 in the afternoon. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I’ll plan a third event for the evening.
Even that is probably too much. Let’s be honest, after a few days of hardcore traveling, I’m probably going to be too exhausted to enjoy that third event. And we’re leaving far too little time for serendipity.
When mixing business and pleasure, I plan my days much the same as I would plan my normal life. I, personally, don’t have any desire to have my days and evenings completely full. I enjoy downtime. I need time to recharge and reset. But, 1 or 2 nights during the week, I like to get out of the house and do something social. I do the same when I’m traveling for work. Plus, without the luxury of a kitchen, I’ll turn each meal into a potential lasting memory at a local eatery.
Beyond changing how we live each day, I have one further suggestion. Go fewer places on each trip. On a recent trip with my family to Scotland with my family, we slept in 3 cities in 10 nights. While trips like that can be fun, they will never be the best way to maximize the value of a travel experience.
Instead, consider spending a week or more in each place you visit. Preferably longer. You might run out of “things to do,” if you believe that the only worthwhile things to do in a city are can be accomplished in 36 hours. But, in reality, the most enjoyable, memorable, and valuable experiences you will have in an unfamiliar city are not the tourist attractions. The best experiences are unexpected the human connections that you make along the way. Worst case scenario, you can hop on a train or plane and move on to the next adventure.
Making the most of your travel experiences is not about checking experiences off of a list. It’s about taking the time to appreciate the things you are doing and the people you are doing them with.
Slow travel is enjoyable travel.
This is life, not a vacation
It’s common for people embarking on their first long-term trip to approach it in the same way as they would any other vacation. They try to pack as much into a each day of a 6 month journey as they would a 3 day escape.
Don’t do it.
Long term travel isn’t like a vacation. It’s an extension of your normal life. The things that annoy you, exhaust you, and depress you in your normal life, will be amplified when are travelling long term. The way we live during a short vacation simply isn’t sustainable.
When you are traveling, you don’t have the anchors that keep you grounded in your day-to-day life. It’s good to break free from the bonds of everyday life that keep you from being the best version of yourself. It also leaves you without a familiar safety net. Your family and friends are far away and inaccessible. Your routines are impossible to maintain. Your life is interrupted.
When people treat long term travel like an extended vacation, they burn out. They cut a year long trip short after only a few months. Instead of returning inspired and invigorated, they come home exhausted and isolated.
Long term travel can open the door to personal reinvention and revitalization. It can lead to transformational shifts in our psychology, behavior, and values. It can make you a better version of yourself.
If you communicate more, pack less and travel slowly, you are increasing the likelihood that your journey will be a success. Even if you’re just taking a short trip, thinking about travel differently can help you make the most of your experiences.